Earlier this week, the Michigan Senate passed anti-bullying legislation that included an exception that allowed religious nuts to bully gay kids if they wanted to. The Michigan Senators who voted for the bill wouldn’t characterize it that way, but let’s just say those jackasses won’t be hosting the Oscars, either.
Yesterday, the Michigan House also passed anti-bullying legislation. This time, there wasn’t an exception for those who want to pick on gay kids. House Republicans and Democrats joined on the bill.
As a person who isn’t a fan of anti-bullying legislation in the first place, I’ve kind of been looking at the developments this week with a feeling of: “You see what happens, Michigan?”
One of the problems with trying to regulate personal behavior is that you often end up with an overbroad, unenforceable definition of the behavior you are trying to stamp out.
The Michigan Senate got itself in trouble because, in a fit of homophobia, they wanted to narrow “bullying,” which could mean just about anything, so that it was still okay to tell gay kids: “Just FYI, my God thinks you shouldn’t be gay and that you are going to hell.” They didn’t want to make a common statement of
poorly interpreted religious storytelling and fear mongering fact punishable under anti-bullying statutes. Homophobic people don’t think bullying gays is “bullying.”
Of course, making an exception for gay bullying would render the entire law unenforceable anyway. Some kids get bullied for being gay — but many, many more kids are bullied for “acting gay.” Or “looking gay.” Or nervously talking to a girl “like you’re gay.” If I were a bully in Michigan under the state Senate’s rules, I’d just claim I gave a kid a good thumping because I perceived he was “turning gay” and I was trying to put him back on course.
So clearly the state Senate was out to lunch and let their own prejudices get in the way of sound policy-making. This would have been a great time for the House to inject some sanity back into the conversation. Unfortunately, they came up with this statement in the Detroit Free Press:
“For many years, people have agreed that bullying is wrong and something needed to be done, but they couldn’t find the compassion to compromise, temper their demands and focus on the kids,” said House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall. “Bullying is wrong. It doesn’t matter who you are, who you are bullying or why you are doing it.”
Be careful with your absolutes there, Speaker Bolger. The lesson from the state Senate should have been that not everybody agrees on what defines “bullying.”
Everybody acts like they know bullying when they see it. But what a lot of soccer moms call bullying, a lot of capitalists or biologists might call survival of the fittest. All throughout junior high school, whenever I tried to talk to a girl, some kid would do something to make fun of me. Throw something at me, bump into me on purpose, pull my pants down. These things sucked. At the time, I felt “bullied.”
When I grew up a little more (and yeah, by “grow up,” I mean “was exposed to an advanced class on natural selection” cause I was a nerd), I learned that the kids weren’t “bullying” me; they were competing with me for access to females. Suddenly, everything made sense. It wasn’t personal, it was business. Fast forward a freshman week at college and I want to hit on a girl who is being occupied by another guy. I do everything I can to humiliate him and when he doesn’t stand up for himself, I (and the girl) realize he’s no threat.
And sure, that girl ended up going home with one of my new roommates because I didn’t protect my flanks the way I should have, but the point is that if I lived under the Michigan House anti-bullying plan, the original guy would have called the cops as he was being bullied off his mark.
Kids will compete. They will try to get the best of other kids. They will try to destroy those they perceive as threats. Hasn’t anyone in Michigan read Lord of the Flies?
You can try, but you can’t legislate competition out of mammalian children.
Michigan anti-bullying law protects religious bullies [Washington Post]
Michigan House OKs anti-bullying bill without ifs or buts [Detroit Free Press]